Staying 5 More Weeks – Lots of Growth
It’s a little hard for me to believe that it’s only been one week here in Pattaya. The work I’ve done with Sakmongkol feels so extensive and my growth feels tangible – I can see it and feel it, which isn’t always the case with progress. Often you’re in a pot of water that’s slowly heating and you barely notice the change, but I think new things are often like this. There’s always lots of progress at the start of things. So we’ve decided to keep going with it. Instead of the original plan of 3 weeks in Pattaya with Sakmongkol we’ve decided to stay a total of 6 weeks. That means twice the time and five more weeks after this one. I’m excited by the idea.
There are some difficulties. First and foremost is that the set up of WKO is so different from what I’m used to – and “what I’m used to” is actually what I’m aiming for – which is training twice per day, a few hours each session. Since training is only in the afternoons at WKO I have been doing my own training in the morning, going through a regular session just without padwork, sparring, clinching… anything that requires a second person. It’s actually been quite grand. I love having the gym to myself and just focusing on what I’ve been working on with Mong in drill form, getting the repetition in so that there’s enough comfort with each new element that we can build on it the next afternoon. But it would be good to have more padwork. The second issue is that it seems that getting a fight for me is “no problem” in the minds of the two trainers at WKO but it’s not as easy as, say, what I’ve experienced in Lanna. In Chiang Mai you can get a fight within a few hours of realizing you want one. There are shows every single night of the week, opponents to be pulled in on short notice, and promoters who know me and want me on their cards. Sakmongkol says there are opponents everywhere for me in Pattaya, but the promoter we’re dealing with is a Wednesday or Friday deal and so far we’ve missed a week because there was no match. Or whatever it is that didn’t work out. He doesn’t know me – maybe once I fight on a card the fights will be easier to set up – but it seems also like maybe this gym just doesn’t have a “stable” of Muay Thai fighters. So they don’t deal with the promoter often and the relationship is maybe a little rusty.
So, with those two things we’re looking into training at a second camp in the mornings. We’ll keep trying to get a fight through Sakmongkol’s connections and under the banner of WKO. I mean, having Sakmongkol corner for me would pretty much be an experience of a lifetime. But if another week goes by without any luck in the fight front it might be prudent to see if this second gym can organize a fight for me. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I also don’t want to be sitting on mine instead of getting in the ring.
My husband and I aren’t really amped on Pattaya. It’s not really our “scene.” But today was my first day off because Sakmongkol had to run some big errands involving driving home and to Bangkok (both about two hours, each direction… it’s a long errand), so I took a Friday rest day. We rented a motorbike and explored the city a little more than what we’re able to do by foot. Traffic freaks me out a little bit but motorbikes are absolutely the life-blood of Thailand. Everyone is on a bike – there are more of them than cars in most places – and it permits a level of freedom that eases up the clotted feeling of staying within a 20 minute walk of our hotel. I like being a homebody, bordering on liking to be a hermit, but I also like getting lost. So a motorbike is a good thing. Today we went to a farther away beach and looked at the exact same prototype of super-tanned, speedo-wearing westerners; but it was nice. We also used the opportunity to find a Muay Thai gym that interested us because it has a bunch of little kids training there. They start their run at 5:30 AM because the kids have to get their training in before going to school. That is Muay Thai.
Petchrungruang Gym – Morning
It took us a little while to find the gym. Petchrungruang has a website but no address and no map. We tried calling the number and at first got no answer, but it was 1 PM so we figured calling closer to regular afternoon session might have better luck. After walking on the beach a bit we tried calling again and this time I got an answer but the guy on the other end of the line couldn’t hear me, so “hello? Hello?” was the extent of our conversation.
Finally, back at our apartment I discovered he’d texted me the address. Clever man. He must get people calling for the address a lot. With the help of a very cool guy who works the front desk of our building – I can’t think of who he reminds me of, but he’s very calm and suave; very Thai – we got an idea of where we were going on a map. Once you actually find the building it seems quite obvious, but the initial process of location is a bit confusing. It’s a great little gym though, just right off the main highway, Sukhumvit, on a little residential street with a pack of roving dogs that are curious and polite. The gym is through a little front office that sells boxing equipment, a nice lady working reception and a weight room and two rings (one very small, like a plastic “kiddie-pool” but a ring) and some hanging bags in the back. It was near the end of training so we watched two Falang guys hitting the bags and a proper herd of little kids watching as two more little kids sparred. Nobody looked older than 10 years old, although there were three girls who were probably 11-13 in Muay Thai shorts and school uniform polo shirts. They weren’t training at that moment but they were there for training, which I found very exciting. They hawk-eyed me a little bit.
The kids were great in the ring. It’s such a different energy to have a gym full of kids. It’s not necessarily something I’d choose over a gym full of adult fighters, but their cocky little performances are like little saplings. There’s promise in them. We talked to an Italian guy who was the trainer while the main Thai trainer was away in Bangkok with a fighter at Lumpinee. He’ll be back tomorrow so we set up coming to train tomorrow morning. It’s late – the kids train early but they invite westerners and whoever else to come at “nine or nine-thirty” in the morning. That’s usually when I’m walking home from Lanna, but hey, I’m in Pattaya. So we’ll check that out tomorrow, which is pretty exciting. The gym had a good feel to it.
I remarked to Kevin how this type of gym really illustrates one of the biggest differences between western Muay Thai and Thai Muay Thai (in Thailand). A lot of westerners come to Chiang Mai and say they saw the fights but “it wasn’t really a stadium, it was like a parking lot.” Yeah, that’s a stadium in Thailand. Even Lumpinee, arguably the most well-known and esteemed (along with Rajadamnern) stadia in all of Thailand, is pretty rusty. And it’s amazing that way. And gyms like this are basically someone’s front yard or back yard or driveway with a ring put in it. That’s what gyms should look like. It’s not the blue and red puzzle mats and light-fixtures and air-conditioned training areas. Those feel weird to me. The backyard gyms of Thailand – the kind you can’t find until you do and then it’s just the most obvious little pocket – they probably would come off as really sketchy in the US or many other places in the west. But here, it’s a way of life. It’s inseparable from the house, the neighborhood, the roosters and dogs meandering around and under the ring. It’s beautiful.
So I start there tomorrow morning. I’ll meet the Thai trainer and see what a session is like. It’s a normal set up: run, shadow, hit the bags, padwork, conditioning – you’re basically responsible for yourself other than padwork directly with a trainer and then it remains to be seen how much he comes around to correct or teach while I’m working outside the ring. But it will be a nice complement to my work with Sakmongkol. He’s training me for fights, his mind is focused on it, so seeing what the other trainer picks up on and carries on with will be interesting. I think I’ll still have some mornings to myself at WKO because I love it. But just being at this gym and feeling what it is will be a good experience too. I look forward to it.
This is part of a near-daily Muay Thai series Training with Sakmongkol wherein I describe my training experiences with him at WKO Pattaya. For those interested I recount my decision to temporarily leave my training in Chiang Mai to take the opportunity to learn from one of the best Thai fighters of his generation and a uniquely gifted teacher in my post: In Search of Sakmongkol. In these posts I try to include as much extensive video as possible so that others can see in detail how and what he is teaching me.